Big 12 Season Preview: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2014

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Iowa State.

Strengths: Georges Niang is getting most of the attention coming into this season, and he certainly should. He’s the best returning player in the Big 12 outside of Juwan Staten and his much-publicized physical transformation should help him stay on the court for as long as Fred Hoiberg needs him. Still, there’s a lot more to this team than just him. Dustin Hogue had a great junior season and played at least 35 minutes in seven of the team’s final nine games. Abdel Nader and Daniel Edozie bring depth to the frontcourt, as will Jameel McKay when he becomes eligible in December. Throw in long-range bombers like Naz Long, Matt Thomas and a skilled ball-handler in Monte Morris, then top it off with the promise of 7’1″ Greek import Georgios Tsalmpouris, and you can see the Cyclones throwing any of a number of looks at opposing teams. Iowa State been an offensive juggernaut under Hoiberg, finishing in the top 12 nationally in offensive efficiency each of the last three seasons, and his team has a great chance to pull off such a feat again. Even with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane now gone, the team still has a deep arsenal of offensive weapons, so look for Iowa State to put up points in a hurry — same as it ever was.

With Hilton Magic at their back, Georges Niang and the Cyclones are back for another wild ride. (Ames Tribune)

With Hilton Magic at their back, Georges Niang and the Cyclones are ready for another ride. (Ames Tribune)

Weaknesses: While Hoiberg has always fielded strong offensive teams, did you know that he’s never had a top-5o defense in five seasons in Ames? His M.O. has always been to sacrifice blocks and steals to speed up the transition game, but while it usually works, it hasn’t made his defense any less vulnerable and there are similar questions this year. Kane’s replacement, newcomer Bryce Dejean-Jones, doesn’t have much of a defensive reputation. Tsalmpouris and Edozie could provide shot-blocking help, but with Edozie having played just sparingly and Tsalmpouris getting settled in, it’s hard to say how much either will contribute. The next biggest concern could be the speed at which Dejean-Jones gets acclimated on the offensive end, but given Hoiberg’s proven success with transfers, he should be just fine. The team’s biggest weakness is again its lack of size down low, which significantly reduces the Cyclones’ margin of error on down shooting nights (ISU went just 1-5 when it shot 40 percent or worse from the floor last season).

Toughest Non-Conference Stretch: For a team that returns much of its Sweet Sixteen squad, Iowa State’s non-conference slate is not very imposing outside of a few notable match-ups. After opening against Oakland, the Cyclones will host guard-laden Georgia State without the services of Nader and Thomas (both were suspended following separate alcohol-related incidents during the offseason). Next comes Feast Week, when Iowa State travels to Kansas City to take on Alabama and either Maryland or Arizona State in the CBE Hall Of Fame Classic. All three teams will be hungry for a resume victory, so while the Cyclones should be able to handle whichever team comes their way, don’t be surprised to see them get pushed, either. However, the toughest non-league matchup from Iowa State’s perspective is a December 12 date at intrastate rival Iowa, which could be a top 20 team by the time that tilt rolls around.

Toughest Conference Stretch: The Cyclones have a fairly balanced schedule in the sense that there isn’t one prolonged stretch that we could call a gauntlet. Of course, the Big 12 should be every bit as competitive top-to-bottom as it was last season, so that doesn’t exactly mean Iowa State will be able to breathe easy either. However, if you’re looking for a period that could make or break their season, it’s toward the back end of the slate. On February 18, the Cyclones pay a visit to Oklahoma State followed by a trip to Texas three days later. Then, on February 25, Iowa State will host Baylor before traveling to Kansas State and hosting Oklahoma on a Saturday/Monday turnaround.

Projected Starting Lineup:

  • G: Monte Morris (So., 125.1 ORtg, 134/28 A-TO ratio)
  • G: Naz Long (Jr., 40.0% 3FG, posted one or zero TO’s in 34 of 36 games played in 2013-14)
  • G: Bryce Dejean-Jones (13.6 PPG, 23.9% ARate, 3.7 RPG with UNLV in 2013-14)
  • F: Dustin Hogue (Sr., 64.6% 2FG, 2nd-leading rebounder among Big 12 returnees)
  • F: Georges Niang (Sr., 16.7 PPG, 32.7% 3FG)

Key Reserves:

  • G: Matt Thomas
  • F: Abdel Nader
  • F: Jameel McKay (eligible in late December)
  • F: Georgios Tsalmpouris
  • C: Daniel Edozie

If Everything Goes Right: The Cyclones breeze through a navigable non-conference slate and carry their strong play through the Big 12 schedule. It’s smooth sailing for The Mayor’s annual group of transfers as Dejean-Jones and Nader fit right into Hoiberg’s system and McKay adds depth in the frontcourt. Niang continues to be the classic match-up nightmare and his improved conditioning leads to a better year on the glass. While the team lacks the muscle to compete with Kansas and Texas at the top of the conference, it rides Niang’s Big 12 POY campaign to a top-three seed and returns to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The floor isn’t very low for this team. If you have talent and good shooters, you’ll be able to compete with anyone and Iowa State will need that on a nightly basis. The downside, then, is that the Cyclones will have a tough time surviving cold shooting nights when they play against big frontcourts like Kansas, Texas and Kansas State, or Oklahoma if TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Seven losses in league play is about as bad as it can get for this team (barring something unforeseen), but given the strength of the conference, even that’s still likely to keep them in the Big Dance.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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